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Beginner Battle Ropes Workout

How to Get Started on the Battle Ropes (and Live to Talk About It)

You've seen them in the gym: those giant twisted torture devices called battle ropes. You may have played with them in a circuit class or a boot camp — or have steered clear of them. Until now. If you are interested in a KILLER core and upper-body workout that will rocket your heart rate for intense intervals, make battle ropes your next station. Proper setup and grip can make or break you, so get those down and then try this little workout. The warmup is 4 minutes, and the workout itself suggests 3-4 circuits of 1 minute of total work. This WILL be enough for your first session (trust me, you'll hit the wall very quickly). You can gradually extend the work intervals as you adjust.


The rope needs to be well anchored as you are going to be sending a tremendous amount of dynamic movement up and down towards a fixed point (the rope will form a skinny U and the bottom of the U is where the rope threads through the anchor, usually a wall or a TRX suspension system). Walk the ends of the rope away from the anchor until they are fully extended, with both sides the same length. Pick up the rope ends, step your feet at least as wide as your hips, squat down with your chest and shoulders straight, core tight.

The grip particulars: palms down, fingers wrap around the taped ends, arms extend towards the anchor point with a slight bend to your elbows, shoulder blades stay flush to your back the entire time. When you get tired, your shoulders will start to collapse in toward your chest, and your arms will start doing all of the work, instead of sharing it with your shoulders, back, and abs. When you move the ropes, imagine you are pulling slightly back as you move your arms up and down, that will help keep the shoulder blades engaged and down.


Before you pick the ropes up, do some light cardio for 3-5 minutes, incorporating as much dynamic movement preparation in the shoulders, arms, and upper back as you can (think jumping jacks, burpees, seal jacks, push-ups, and arm circles). Pick up a single rope with one hand in a standard grip, squat down, keeping your back and shoulders up and straight, hips square, core tight, arm straight out in front of you. Begin to move the rope up and down (from your waist to just below your shoulders) until you create a steady wave motion. Continue at a moderate pace for 15-30 seconds. Switch to the other arm and repeat. Now pick up both ends of the rope and use both arms to create a alternating moderate wave motion, one arm moving up as the other moves down for 15-30 seconds. For the final 15-30 seconds of the warmup, move both arms together, creating mirror waves in each side of the rope.

The Work

Now, if your arms aren't jelly yet, you can move on to the workout below. If they are, and it is OK if they are, do the warm-up 2-3 times a week until you build the strength to do more. It'll come, just be persistent. Then jump in!

Motion Time
Moderate Wave — Right Arm 15 seconds
Rest 15 seconds
Moderate Wave — Left Arm 15 seconds
Rest 15 seconds
Moderate Alternating Wave — Both Arms 15 Seconds
Rest 15 Seconds
Large Wave* — Both Arms 15 Seconds
Rest 60 Seconds
Repeat circuit 2-3 times or until failure

*Lift arms up as high as they can go before slapping them down towards the ground, creating large waves.

Don't be discouraged if you can't complete the entire interval, you will build up to it. And if the intervals aren't long enough to be challenging, increase by 5 seconds until you have difficulty finishing one complete circuit. Work your way up to 30 seconds per exercise and you will notice the results in both the endurance strength of your upper body and your cardiovascular recovery. These circuits will have your heart pounding and your breath heaving so be careful not to over do it. Fifteen seconds doesn't seem like much until you get those ropes going.

Advanced Options

Once you have mastered the intro workout, you can move up to heavier ropes to increase the challenge. Or you could add a jump to the large waves to bring in some lower body, or shift your hips to one side and then the other to attack the muscles from a different angle. You can then add in different hand holds like "the stagecoach": wrap hands around the rope just below the taped area, thumbs and pointer fingers closest to the taped end, elbows winging out to the side. Tilt the rope ends up towards the ceiling, elbows coming back in tight to your sides with a slight bend. Lift the rope up and down to create even waves. Lateral or circular rope motions are good options once you are comfortable (they tangle easily so to avoid frustration, keep these out of your beginning workouts). Whatever method you use, you will feel and see results from this very challenging fitness tool. Now get out there and make waves!

Image Source: Unsplash / Scott Webb
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